EU to ban detergent phosphorus

15 December 2011

In a significant move towards alleviating the pressures of eutrophication on water resources, the EU has decreed that laundry and dishwasher detergents will contained reduced levels of phosphorus as from 2013.  Some critics believe the move is too late in coming.

The European Union will virtually ban phosphates in dishwasher and laundry soap to curb the pollution of rivers, lakes and seas by algae from 2013, EU lawmakers decided on Wednesday.

Phosphates help soften calcium-rich hard water but they can lead to blooms of algae, which starve fish of oxygen. The compound has had a particularly serious effect on parts of the Danube river and Baltic Sea, environmentalists say.

The legislation, expected to be rubber-stamped by EU member states in the coming months, will reduce phosphates in dishwasher soap to half a gram per dose from 2013 and even less in washing powder from 2017.

Environmental campaigners said the rules would come too late to save some EU waters.

An excess of phosphorus in lakes and rivers is a global problem, not least for Lake Erie in the US.

State environmental officials say that Lake Erie’s toxic algae blooms have never been worse and warn that fish and billions of dollars in tourism revenue are at risk.

The level of phosphorus, which feeds algae blooms, is above safe levels in nearly every section of the lake, according to a report presented yesterday by Roger Knight, Lake Erie program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“The trends are moving in the wrong direction no matter where on the lake you go,” Knight said at a meeting of the Lake Erie Commission in Columbus. “We are way above targets.”

Analyses show numbers of walleye and yellow perch — the lake’s most-lucrative sport-fish species — drop significantly as the level of algae rises.

That affects the lake’s $10 billion annual tourism industry.

Similar problems exist for Ohio’s Buckeye Lake:

Past agricultural practices within the watershed led to increased sedimentation and nutrient loading in the streams as well as the lake. Urban development bordering the lake and in the region has increased channelization and impervious surfaces, contributing to non-point source pollution from lawn fertilizers, chemicals, pet waste and petroleum products.

In addition to studying the current water quality conditions that exist across the watershed, BLT is focusing their attention to activities that will lead to the improvement of the natural environment. These actions include reduction of the carp population, use of non-phosphorous fertilizers on lawns, no till/low till farming methods and bioremediation techniques.

The town of Diss (yes, its a real place, in Norfolk in the UK) is looking at circulators and reedbeds to offset algal problems in Diss Mere (Lake Diss).  They should look at floating islands if they want to solve the problem quickly and not simply make it worse!

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